Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Painted into a corner

First, a huge "Thank you!" to everyone who watched and commented on my recent youtube video.  The video, for those who have seen it (I've included it below for reference), left an important nugget of information out, such as this is D&D Carcosa... not Call of Cthulhu.  Yeah, that makes a wee bit of difference.  Oops.

Even though I knew there were plenty of options, I wanted to do something special, something new - to challenge myself as a Dungeon Master.

So many choices out there!  I could have had the party fight and get killed or run away, used the Primoridal One to control them via some kind of possession or threat of annihilation, made the godling temporarily weak and susceptible to their desires, or a dozen other options.

I chose to have the adventurers see, up close and personal, the nature of this thing.  First, it let out an ear-piercing shrieking roar which made everyone cover their ears in order to prevent hearing damage.  Then, the shambling Primordial One possessed the NPC shaman who summoned it, and forced him to cut his own throat as he had just done to the Ulfire woman a few minutes before.  Following that, it swung its monstrous tentacles and took out part of a mountain range (it was about 20 - 25 stories tall), showing it to be hollow and containing some kind of advanced technology.  Lastly, the thing reached its tentacles out to one of Carcosa's moons, as if willing the satellite on a collision coarse with the planet itself.

At this time, 5 dimensional gateways appeared nearby.  A single gate would bring the PCs home - where the Primordial One would follow them, of course.  The rest, doorways to various temporal states.  Traveling through time, in other words.  The cleric prayed for guidance.  He wanted to know where the gateway home was.  They did that, the godling peeled back a layer of reality.  The party split up.  One group stayed in their native world to raise an army.  The second group went back to Carcosa, attempting to stop the Lovecraftian horror.

The second gateway brought them to 15 minutes before the party reached the stone godling.  Naturally, they tried to stop themselves from completing the ritual.  There was a group of Ulfire Men who were trying to awaken the Old One before the PCs originally arrived.  As you can imagine, the notion of disrupting the chronology of events and their repercussions came up.  Every PC who was there took their own unique tactic - from engaging their previous selves to capturing the Ulfire female sacrifice.  I handled things as best I could.

After an initial exploration of the hollow mountain and the weaponized craft it contained, Group #1 was able to raise an army, and those PCs had fun doing that.  Group #2 managed to prevent the Primordial One from being made flesh in the first place via their trip to the recent past.  Finally, I waved my DM hand and made everyone reappear in Carcosa at the present time.

The confidence and drive to get started on a game plan eluded me.  Waiting until the last possible moment (two hours before the game's start) isn't usually how I conduct my DM business.  And yet, I knew that if I prematurely decided on a course of action, it would not have been as epic nor as awesome as last Saturday's adventure.  Drawing it out somehow led to an outside-the-box idea where I was able to safely get out of the way to paint the corner where I had just been standing.

Next session might be the end of Carcosa.  It's a great setting, but I also feel the need to get back to traditional D&D environs (more or less).  Yes, I miss the dungeon.


Friday, April 26, 2013

OSR Prestige Classes

And why bloody not?  I'm probably not alone.  Somewhere out there are tiny handfuls of old school gamers who think prestige classes for original D&D, AD&D, and their associated retro-clones is a good idea.

Yes, 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons gave us much to think about... and to steal!  Another jewel to be robbed by the purple shadow haze of nightfall.  (Sorry, I've been reading Robert E. Howard's Conan stories again.)  Deviation from standard classifications is what we want, isn't it?   Non-standardization is, after all, the essence of old school gaming!

How is this going to work?  Who has already tried this?  Is there a blog or PDF or setting book?  If the subject hasn't fully been explored, then how about a OSR community project?  Should these be open to a particular race/class at 7th level - 5th or 9th instead?  How many is too many?  Should these class deviations be created by the DM, the players under DM supervision, or both?  Is it simpler or more complex than creating a Fighter/Cleric or Elf Wizard/Thief?  What are the restrictions?  What are the benefits?  Are there any drawbacks?  How does one translate feats into pre-third edition D&D?

Of course, the most important question of all might be:  is this something the players want?  If it is, then prestige classes should be considered.  They can be excused, explained, or hand waved any which way the DM likes.  Fun is the best reason for doing anything in a roleplaying game.

Anyway, here are a few suggestions of my own; classes that either exist in some version of D&D already, I thought up, or found after a brief search in cyberland.  Nothing concrete, only ideas...  I thought it was important to sow the seeds of imagination before anything else.  In fact, I would rather have a short paragraph describing each career path than a list of numbers, bonuses, modifiers, and rules.  Although, I'm sure a balance can be struck between game and narrative.

Wizard, Elf, or Drow

Aquamancer, Pyromancer, Ice Mage, Celestial Invoker, Widowmaker, Arachnomancer, etc.

Thief, Halfling, or Half-Orc

Bard, Acrobat, Assassin, Bounty Hunter, Barbarian, Pirate, Shadow Striker, etc.


Death Priest, Templar, Herald of the Old Gods, Hierophant, etc.

Warrior (Fighter or Fighting-Man) or Dwarf or Half-Orc

Reaver, Slayer, Ranger, Knight of the Crimson Wyrm, Paladin, etc.


I want to know what you guys think?  Is this something you might use in your current campaign?  If you already are, then please furnish us with details!  And feel free to comment below with your own suggestions.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Lords of Salem: a bad trip

Lords of Salem?  More like the lords of lame, man.

Yeah, I saw this last night with my wife.  It was to be our monthly "date night".  Even though she didn't hate it (she still claims that Wallstreet 2: Money Never Sleeps wasn't that bad)

Rob Zombie's new film kind of snuck up on me.  I knew of it beforehand from perusing Fangoria or Rue Morgue months ago, but there was no advertising.  I wasn't expecting the media blitz that Evil Dead got, but there seemed to be nothing behind LoS.  Just a review in The Onion (which rarely lets me down) Beyond that, I tried to see if there was a more convenient location... only to realize that LoS was playing in one theater only in the city of Madison, WI.  And now I know why there was no advertising and but a single cinema took enough pity on the film to screen it:  Lords of Salem mostly sucked.

Just as House of 1,000 Corpses and the Devil's Rejects were influenced by Texas Chainsaw Massacre, LoS is heavily influenced by Rosemary's Baby.  And while Rob Zombie can approximate the down and dirty grindhouse terror of Tobe Hoober, the audience unfortunately learns that he can't hold a candle to Roman Polanski.  Most of the raw elements are there, but the crafsmanship of meshing everything together seamlessly is lost on the undead director.

Edited down, it would have made a fantastic 5 minute video for one of Rob Zombie's songs.  As an hour and 40 minute movie?  It's way too long, too meandering, too pointless, and too alienating.  The plot is there, but there's not much emotional force behind it.  Most movies know the rules, and only try breaking them when they have superior material or an ingenius plan.  This movie wasn't so lucky.  LoS just kind of shows us the broad outline of what's happening with vague impressions of why without making anyone care what happens to Rob Zombie's wife... I mean Heidi LaROK, no I mean Adelaide Elizabeth Hawthorne, or is it Heidi Hawthorne?  Whatever she's called, her striking beauty is one of the few redeeming features of Zombie's Halloween remake and LoS, too - only she's made to look like a dread-locked, 70's fashion trash, junkie, crackhead!  So, her hotness is all but obscured!  Epic fail, Sheri Moon Zombie's husband!

Top that off with all the 60 - 80 year old naked women.  Yes, you read that correctly.  There was more aged, out of shape, unattractive flesh on display than a nursing home on wash day.  Yikes!  And the camera doesn't just glance at that saggy and/or wrinkled eyesore - it wallows in it!

What else?  Remember how cool House of 1,000 Corpses was, except for just a couple glaring issues - principally, in my mind, the overuse of the name Doctor Satan?  Well, expect to hear Satan invoked just as many times in LoS.  Why do that?  Doesn't Rob know that every time he is named, it lessens his power, it lessens the overall effect, and just makes it seem hokey and dumb?  Three times should be the max for a full-length film.  More than that and you've turned it into a drinking game.

I'm going to just end this review short.  There are other things that alienated me and the rest of the 10 people audience on opening night - like the oppressive and repetitive music/sounds throughout the film, the spitting (more than once!) on a newborn baby, the lack of understanding about Satanism, witchcraft, and effective filmmaking, and all the other shit I mentioned above.  Done in the right way, I can enjoy the kind of transcendent alienation of David Lynch.  But imagine a Lynch movie attempted by an amateur?  That's the kind of disjointed mess we have in LoS.

If this had been a 5 minute video - or even a half hour short film before his next cinematic masterpiece, I might have been dancing in the aisle.  Alas, this full-length bad trip might ensure that every Rob Zombie movie after LoS goes straight to video.  For me personally, I'll need to read a couple reviews before giving my precious time and money to see another of his films.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Things happen while they sleep

This is a random chart for things occurring while adventurers get some well-deserved shut eye.  Happy Swords & Wizardry appreciation day, everyone!

1.  A severed head is found in a PC's bedroll.
2.  One of the PC's items has been stolen.
3.  A new item has appeared, mixed in with a PC's pack of equipment.
4.  Dreams of underwater creatures tearing the organs out of the PC whilst an ebony face laughs.
5.  A PC wakes up with an alien organism hugging his face.
6.  Bite marks are discovered on a PC's neck... lycanthropy?
7.  A PC's blanket has been replaced with a totally different blanket - it's midnight blue and full of constellations.
8.  The magic-user's spells have been unexpectedly forgotten.
9.  A PC's memories have vanished.  Not all of them, but significant and recent memories.
10.  A letter was delivered into the middle of camp.
11.  A PC wakes up next to a strange woman.
12.  One of the PCs goes on a moonlit stroll - sleepwalking.
13.  An NPC's brains were sucked out in the middle of the night.
14.  Midnight showers - there's a sudden and heavy rainstorm in the middle of the night.
15.  Everyone wakes to a terrible sound.  One of the moons just exploded!  Seriously, it's cracked in half and now tidal waves, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are about to ravage the planet.
16.  A shooting star or meteor lands not too far away from the PC's camp.
17.  A sleep spell was cast upon the PCs while they slept and now they awaken just as night is about to fall.
18.  Some kind of demonic insect burrowed its way into a PC's abdomen.
19.  The PCs wake up in a prison cell.
20.  In the small hours, the PCs were transported to another world - Devil Lords ruling over their mortal slave-cattle in a realm of darkness.

Thanks for checking out my blog, everyone!  If you use this random table in your game, then please let me know.  I want to hear about your adventure.


p.s.  Tobie Abad was inspired to create his own "why they sleep" table.  Check his out because he came up with some awesome stuff!  If we had a couple more gamers in on this, we could forge a collaborative d100 "why they sleep" random table.  Who's in?

p.p.s.  Scott from Octopus Games created amazing list of 40.  Check them out!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lucky 13

I posted something about this a week ago on an RPG google community to see what people's initial reaction would be.  Some people thought it interesting, others assumed it too much trouble to be worth implementing.  I was curious to see if my idea would work, and was fortunate enough to try it out this past Saturday night in my D&D game.

So, what's the concept?  Here is is:  anyone rolling a natural "13" on a d20 or d100 would score above and beyond an "ordinary" critical success, in essence a 13 would result in a hyper-critical.  Not only that, but the roller would be able to narrate or describe the outcome (within reason).

Originally, I thought the narration alone would be interesting.  So, even if a "13" would miss on a d20, it could still be narrated.  Well, that seemed half-cool, half-lame.  Crits (and hyper-crits) allow for heroic deeds, warranting the attention of those Dark Gods who watch over audacious adventurers.

Why thirteen?  Well, it's kind of a cool number on its own.  Thirteen has a mystique about it... a danger.  This last Saturday was also the 13th of the month, and was our thirteen session.  Plus, I wanted to do something special because one of my best friends was in town for the weekend and agreed to play D&D with us.  I needed something even more kick-ass gonzo awesome to ratchet things up a notch.  Lucky 13 to the rescue!

Before the session really got underway, I allowed for a small daily chance of psionics for each character, as this was Carcosa.  Not only did everyone have a 6 - 10 % chance of acquiring mind-blast or telekinesis (I boosted the probability) but rolling a 13% was another possibility.  In fact, I told the players that their character would get two psionic abilities if they rolled a 13!  If it had been possible to gain a Dark Side point for influencing the dice, I think a few of them would have succumbed.  They really wanted to see a 13 bad!  Hahaha.  Alas, no 13.  But one character rolled well enough to gave ESP for the day.

To be honest, it didn't affect the game that much.  Only three 13's were rolled all night.  I rolled the first for initiative, allowing seven zombies to overwhelm a single PC which was pretty cinematic.  Harold rolled the second, also for initiative, giving him the drop on the giant Lovecraftian toad thing just outside the spaceship.  He described how he was going to attack it, trying to take out one of its many eyes, if memory serves.  Later in the evening, Harold rolled a 13 again, this time on a percentile roll for a magical dagger stolen from a wizard.  The roll was to determine the "bane" or what the magical weapon was good at vanquishing - Elves, Trolls, Dragons, etc.  Well, since he rolled a hyper-critical success, I just let him pick whatever he wanted.  He ended up with a +1 dagger, +3 versus the Old Ones and their spawn.  Nice!

It was fun.  Little things like that add extra flavor or spice to the game.  For those curious, the idea was partially birthed from Dungeon Master Johnny.  I watched a video of his where he described picking a random number and during that session something nifty would happen when it was rolled.  Just one of the weird little things he did as DM.  After hearing that little pearl, I knew one day I'd do something similar in my own D&D game.

I can't think of a reason to cease our Lucky 13 rule.  That means it's going to remain a permanent fixture in our game.  I'm sure awesome things will keep coming.  When I collect enough juicy stories, I'll blog about it again.


*  "Sword & Sorcery" artwork by Santiago Iborra

Friday, April 12, 2013

Unexpected Encounters #3

This idea came to me during an elevator ride a few days ago.

The PCs are crawling through a dungeon or similar area when they notice an illuminated panel embedded into the stone ceiling.  The panel is definitely not stone.  In fact, it looks very out-of-place here, the material like nothing they've seen before.  Adventurers can see the shadow of something between the panel and whatever light source is above it.  Whatever is up there isn't moving, but curved like multiple serpents.

There's a mechanism for opening the panel if someone looks for it.  Otherwise, smashing it to pieces also works.  The light source comes from two luminous cylinders mounted 6" above the panel.  Is it powered by magic, electricity, power cells, crystals, or something else?

The DM can either pick one of the following, roll randomly, or choose his own creation.  Also, there's nothing to stop you from describing multiple illuminated ceiling panels or something else adventurers can see as a silhouette.

1.  Intestines!  A little examination and knowledge reveal they are from a humanoid and have been removed and placed above the panel within 24 hours.  Whose innards are these and why were they put there?  Was it for some kind of religious ceremony?  Does someone plan on collecting them afterwards?  Are they from a regenerating beast?

2.  Circuitry!  Tubes and connected wiring lie on top of the panel.  Perhaps they fell from the advanced-looking mechanism 3' above the panel or maybe it was deliberately cut down (sabotage)?  This, of course, begs the question: why are there mechanisms between the dungeon's levels?  Is it part of a space ship?  Was this dungeon built by aliens or beings from another dimension?  If so, then what other properties or capabilities does this structure exhibit?

3.  A gateway to another world!  3' above the panel is a swirling plane of kaleidoscopic energy, sitting directly on top of the panel are ropes.  Why?  Where does this portal lead?

4.  The severed tentacles of some eldritch beast!  The tentacles are leaking traces of a milky white fluid.  There's no sign of the creature from whence these appendages came.  Perhaps the PCs will face it further down the corridor.  However, that still does not explain why the illuminated ceiling panel is here or what its function is.

Ultimately, there should NOT be a 3 second answer easily satisfying all.  The point of these unexpected encounters is to inject a bit of mystery into the game.  What's D&D for if not to explore the unknown?

If you use this in your adventure or have some wild theory about what this illuminated ceiling panel is and why it's here, then please post a comment below.  I'm curious as well.  ;)


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GM as benevolent dictator

Some have said that benevolent dictatorship is the ideal form of government.  A benevolent dictator exercises his political power for the people rather than exclusively for his or her own self-interest or the benefit of a small portion of the people.  In essence, that's what most players want in a Game Master, right?  Even the title has the word "Master" in it.  The GM is the lord.  He can be a total douche - in which case most players will leave the game, or he can reign with thoughtfulness and care - such is the type of GM to which players flock.

There's a social contract between the players and GM.  The GM is given power by the players' consent.  When things go too far, individual players are free to withdraw their consent, effectively deposing the GM (usually as a group) or merely walking out on the game.

I walked out on a game once.  Right in the middle of combat.  The GM, in my opinion, had flaws such as uninspired adventure hooks, boring story, frequently focusing the spotlight on his super-awesome NPCs instead of the PCs, etc.  But the straw which broke the camel's back was this:  There was a combat on a train (this was Eberron).  I was in one train-car and the fight was going on in the next.  I and another PC were told in no uncertain terms that we couldn't do anything until the car door was unblocked.  Half hour later of twiddling my thumbs while watching the other two players fight, I finally got through.  As I stepped into the "combat car", an opponent was waiting for me on the other side of the door.  The DM rolled for him.  He hit me, damage was rolled, I was knocked unconscious.  I appealed, but there was nothing the DM would do.  I was pretty sure combat would go at least an hour more (another problem with this particular game).  No healing in sight or way of regaining consciousness, I just decided to go home and watch TV.  That's pretty much what I said as I gathered my books and stood up.  I knew I wouldn't be back, and also realized that staying in a game I found consistently underwhelming was a tragic waste of my valuable time.

My friend, who was also at the table, gave me a strange look as I got up to leave.  The next day he asked why I left.  I told him.  He couldn't disagree that the session was shitty, for me in particular.  Two sessions later, he stopped going, too.  I think the DM was being transferred out of state and stopped running it shortly thereafter.

Anyways, this is just an example of what I mean.  There's a broad spectrum between absolutely loving a game and hating it beyond words.  Have you ever looked at your watch during an unbearable session, then pretended you just remembered you had to go do something else very soon?  If you haven't experienced a game that horrendous, then consider yourself lucky.  It happens sometimes.  Perhaps that's why gamers are reluctant to play at unfamiliar tables?  Luckily, I've also attended many games which were worth their weight in gold.

Some RPG systems (or various editions of those systems) try to adjust the balance of power - filling core books up with so many God damn rules that Game Masters can do little more than roll for the other side.  If GMs run those games by the book, then virtually everything has been decided in advance... from challenge ratings to spellcasting procedures, rewarding experience to magic items.  The GM is no longer master of the game.  Besides rolling dice, he's a voice over with a pencil.  No power emanates from his office, he has no authority to create.  He can do nothing but what the book tells him.  "GM" is an empty name for those sad individuals.

Is this good for the players?  Well, if their GM was a real asshole, then maybe it's better to tie his hands.  However, benevolent dictators are relegated to the trash heap, worse than useless.  Their love of the game, their imagination, ingenuity, and storytelling will surely be crushed under the bureaucratic red tape of rules upon rules upon rules.

That's another reason I prefer old school gaming, where rulings are more important than rules.  Benevolent dictators are allowed to wield their power to benefit the vast majority.  Face facts, terrible GMs are going to run mediocre games (at best) no matter what ruleset used.  "Upgrading" to newer systems of GM shackling won't help much.  Keep your GM in a straight-jacket, and his benevolence won't do the players any good.  All that standardization is crucifying him!

Ok, below is where you post feedback.  Do you agree, disagree, or want to share your own story?  I want to see your comments!  Thanks in advance, guys.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

No game, just Evil Dead.

There are few things more annoying than not being able to game (roleplay) due to lack of people.  Not having enough players is a common problem for working adults with kids, as well as, other obligations and responsibilities.  That's why so many gamers have been turning to online options.  Face-to-face roleplaying seems rather old school now.  Perhaps that's why I'm so dedicated to making it work...

Anyways, one of my players didn't want to make the trip if there were only going to be two players (weak sauce!).  So instead, the one player I did have, Harold, suggested going to see Evil Dead.  The remake, obviously.  My wife accompanied us to the theater.  It was good.  Gory, horrific, and reminiscent of the original while definitely being its own film.  I was afraid that every special effect and stray drop of blood was going to be CGI.  I loathe CGI, by the way.  It makes great films look like they've been injected with shitty cartoon images that doesn't belong.  Luckily, all the FX looked legit.

True horror, scifi, and fantasy special effects were perfected in the 1980's.  Give me John Carpenter's The Thing, Friday the 13th, Fright Night, and yes... Evil Dead (1 and 2)!  Those are the films I love, that resonate with me visually.  Don't get me wrong, some CGI is ok.  The Matrix wouldn't have existed if it weren't for computers (in more ways than one).  However, Phantom Menace can suck my dick.  Sure, Darth Maul, Yoda, and a couple other things were cool, but that wasn't enough to make it a great film.  Too much CGI was just one of the problems, but let's not get too deep into the Star Wars prequels in this post.

Beyond being "good", the Evil Dead remake seemed to be missing a couple scenes.  Why was the glasses guy so interested in releasing the book and reading passages?  They must have written and filmed a scene like that - explaining his need to know, possibly something about the inner darkness which exists in all of us - so why wasn't it in the theatrical release?  Will it be in the DVD?  Also, there needed to be more backstory flashbacks of life before coming to the house.  Sure, there's off-handed dialog and a couple of old photographs showing how the characters are connected to each other, but it's pretty minimal.  That's a missing scene as well.

In my opinion, Evil Dead should have learned something from The Cabin in the Woods.  Now there was a multi-dimensional horror film.  Very few writers are equal to Joss Whedon, so I can't bash Evil Dead too much.  Still... Cabin is worth emulating, writers.  It's there.  It exists.  I'm figuratively pointing to it right now.  Emulate ye!  Speaking of which, can a Game Master use memorable moments of terror in his game?  How does horror movie imagery translate to horror roleplaying?  Post a comment below if you have any advice or a story to share.

Then, the three of us went home to relieve my wife's parents of their babysitting duties.  Harold and I watched the original Evil Dead on DVD - still awesome, even though I've seen it dozens of times; unfortunately, I fell asleep during the middle.  Hey, I've got a toddler and a baby at home.  I get tired easily!

I'm still a little irritated that we couldn't game last Saturday night.  Three times a month shouldn't be too difficult.  Meanwhile, I'm doing everything I can to find more players - craigslist, game store bulletin boards, online player registries, attending local RPG meetups, asking old friends, notices on FB, etc.  It's frustrating, but I'll have a full table soon.  I just won't stop until it happens.

Dungeon Masters, don't take your players for granted!  They are the lifeblood of our game.  My struggle with finding quality, local, available, and reliable players (who enjoy old school gaming) has taught me their true value.  When (not if, but when!) I have a full table, you can bet I'll make sure everyone is satisfied.  I'm not going to hand every character the equivalent of a holy avenger each session, just like I'm not going to give my eldest daughter candy and cake just because I'm glad she's around - but every player, via their character, must illuminate the dark recesses of weekly sword & sorcery escapism!

DMs might not be able to shine the spotlight on every single character every single session because that's incredibly difficult.  Players need to understand that DMs are only human (briefly mention how your character might have been overlooked after the game).  Nevertheless, attempts will be made to focus on PCs rather than the NPCs, monsters, and whatever dank abode they crawled out of.  I shall set the stage, scene, and story for the PCs to interact with.  I won't overwrite, railroad, or squash creative adventurer heroism.  That's a promise!


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Spectrum of Awesome

This is the only game mechanic you'll ever need!

Ok, that might be overstating the importance of what you'll find below, not to mention that lots of awesome game mechanics exist in the world.  And yet, I think you'll find that this one covers a lot of ground.

Does the cleric receive divine retribution?  What happens when the party wizard wants to counter a fireball spell with icy blast?  Your thief just scaled the cavern wall and now he wants to throw rocks down on the slithering beast coming after him.  When you're not rolling something super specific like a saving throw or a straightforward ability check, there's a place you can go... the one stop shop at Dungeons "R" Us, baby.  Behold... the Spectrum of Awesome!!!

Spectrum of Awesome

1%  ~  critical success; best possible result.

2% - 5%  ~  high degree of success.

6% - 20%  ~  standard success.

21% - 39%  ~  borderline or minor success.

40% - 60%  ~  stalemate; mixed results; complications; some success and some failure.

61%  -  79%  ~  borderline or minor failure.

80% - 94%  ~  standard failure.

95% - 99%  ~  high degree of failure.

100%  ~  critical failure; worst possible result

All things being equal, more or less, the GM (or player) can roll his percentile dice and go by what's printed above.  If the subject has some kind of advantage or disadvantage because of environmental factors, special information, something relating to his race/class or whatever, feel free to spot him 10 points either one way or the other.  Maybe the warrior has a razor thin edge because of his incredible brawn.  In that case, subtract as many points from his roll as the character's strength bonus.  Similarly, that negative charisma modifier might be added.  Totally up to you.

As I said, this table is for when a saving throw, ability check, or to-hit roll isn't appropriate.  If you like, copy it, paste it, print it, cut it, and glue it to the inside of your GM screen.  The SoA won't let you down.  Tell me if it works out for you and what happened in your game!


p.s.  Instead of adding 4 points here or subtracting 10 points there, why not adjust the results by categories.  If a PC has a slight advantage because of some skill or ability, then nudge the outcome one category towards the good.  If an NPC has a serious disadvantage because of his ill conceived plan, then adjust the outcome two or three categories to the bad.  After a couple sessions of use, this is how the SoA evolved in my game.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Parallel Universe D&D

I think every Dungeon Master could benefit from this idea.  Instead of calling it Dungeons & Dragons, call it something else.  Mazes & Monsters, Demons & Sorcery, Dark Towers, Scourge of the Crimson Wyrm, etc.  Whatever you want... because this game is just like the fantasy RPGs you're familiar with, except that there are no written rules!  But don't worry, if things go well, you'll be creating a home-made reference of guidelines as you game.  The DM should come prepared with an hour's worth of notes (this is not an exercise in RPG design - so don't go overboard).  He creates the game and lays down the law... influenced by player input, of course.

When something comes up, the DM makes a ruling.  He's free to ask the players their thoughts, and listen to their suggestions; however, it's still the Dungeon Master's game.  Nevertheless, I encourage the DM and players to reach some kind of compromise a majority of the time.

"What's my Elf like?"  "What powers does he have?"  "How does magic work?"  Everything that hasn't been considered in the hour or two beforehand, must be briefly considered (3 second rule!) and adjudicated right then and there.  No looking anything up in a book, deck of cards, online, or anything else  - that kind of thing is forbidden!  This session is a rulebook free zone.

What kind of game will evolve from such an experience?  How will this game be different than your usual D&D, Pathfinder, Warhammer, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Dragon Age, Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Burning Wheel, Houses of the Blooded, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game, etc.  As DM, you should absolutely feel free to borrow a game mechanic or rule from RPGs you know and love - just as long as it's from memory.  But, on the other hand, you're not bound by anything as there is no rule book to look at.  You're free as the cold northern winds to do as you please.

Maybe you want to start with a version of Amber's attribute auction, take the career options from Warhammer, the rolling doubles stunt mechanic from Dragon Age, the possibility of mercurial magic and corruption from Dungeon Crawl Classics, giving narrative control to players like Houses of the Blooded, add Call of Cthulhu's sanity mechanic, post-apocalyptic vehicular combat from some kind of Dark Sun Car Wars hybrid, and the rest (as far as your memory serves) from AD&D.

This exercise is about giving us license to roleplay according to our will, without being bound to tables, charts, or having to interpret the judicial language of arcane tomes.  It's all fast and furious; fueled by the raw, instinctual fire of our collective imaginations.

Not sure which way to go?  Let the dice decide!  Or pick another randomization method.  The DM could think of a number and whoever correctly guesses it gets to decide how a fireball spell works or the chances of a cleric receiving divine intervention (remember, it works both ways - the monsters and villains encountered have fireballs and clerics, too!).  Do you want to get away from randomness?  Vote on it like a democracy (maybe the DM gets two votes and each player gets one?).

This is your opportunity to break away from conventions - and those insufferable rules lawyers!  If this concept scares you just a little bit, that's all the more reason to go for it!  Hey, it's an experiment.  Give yourself permission to screw it up.  If it's a roaring success like you just rolled a crit with a vorbal blade, you'll realize the awful truth - the rules never mattered as much as you thought they did.

One session should gauge your on-the-fly competence in regards to Mastery of the Game.  Want to see how far the demon-rabbit hole goes?  Play another session of Crimson Sorcery & Dungeon Wyrm!  You'll be amazed at how the game organically evolves over time... until it feels like you're finally playing your game.  After several adventures, the table can't help but roleplay differently.  Not necessarily better or worse, but more intuitively.


Monday, April 1, 2013

GM Bootcamp!

I don't have much to say about the concept of a Game Master Bootcamp, other than it should be a thing.  There's a bootcamp for everything else, why not one for becoming a better GM?  Of course, there are already a few blog and forum posts about "GM Bootcamp" out there in cyberland.  That's fine.  Great, even! In fact, I'd prefer it if there were hundreds of accredited bootcamps for Game Masters all over the world.

Even good DMs, Judges, Referees, Maze Controllers, Narrators, Storytellers, and Keepers of Arcane Lore could be doing better.  I am no exception.  My mastery of the game is not what it should be.  Fortunately, there's no better way of crystallizing one's knowledge into a practical application of the primary concepts than teaching.  That statement's probably debatable, but I think most people would agree that teaching a set of skills tends to improve that same skillset.

There are many wonderful books on GMing, and I hope to use those as a frame of reference for my bootcamp.  I'm going to examine various tips, pick them apart, and just see if they're worth copying down in our figurative spellbooks.

I'll keep adding to this particular blog post as time goes by, so feel free to keep coming back.  Ask questions or post your feedback (especially critiques of my wisdom).  That will greatly improve the usefulness of it.  Maybe one day I'll be able to host a face-to-face GM Bootcamp in the Bahamas for several hundred dollars a head.  Right now, I'll settle for helping out a couple gamers just because I love this hobby.

Ok, without further ado, here are a few random things I'm setting down for your perusal...

1.  The best in-person GM technique I picked up recently is this: fold a bit of paper in front of each player seated around the table.  On the outward side of the folded paper (think of a plastic fast food drive-up window number) write the character's name.  If there's a new guy or everyone's just met, then put the player's name on the card as well.  And anything else which might be pertinent, such as alignment, prominent physical feature (why not a little drawing?), deity worshiped, insignia, etc.  Especially if you're not using miniatures, I think the extra details, besides character name, are worth writing down.

I can't tell you the number of times I've wanted to use a particular character's name in the heat of battle or whatever only to have it escape my memory for a few seconds.  Then, of course, the moment's gone.  I end up saying, "Dude, you're guy gets hit."  Or "Jason's character falls off the ledge."  Well, not anymore.  This helps fellow players, too.  Hopefully, the quantity and quality of actual roleplaying will go up.

2.  There's a nice google+ community I belong to.  It's called "Game Master Tips".  An individual on there asked me how he could possibly incorporate an element from my blog into his Eberron campaign.  If the characters haven't fully explored a setting aspect yet, then now's your chance to incorporate something new, alien, weird, and non-standard.  OSR!  No setting book is a bible, just as there isn't a biblical core book of rules.  Do as thou wilt, DM, shall be the whole of the law!  Subverting expectations is great for elevating the players' sense of mystery - without it, your setting might become a bit predictable and dull.  So, do the unexpected!

Having to retroactively alter the game world is not cool, though.  "Hey guys, remember when I said that Half-Elves didn't exist in this world?  Well, yeah, I guess they do now because this adventure has a few Half-Elves in it.  Oops."  I don't recommend that.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways around it.  For instance:  a) what the PCs previously encountered was just the tip of the iceberg.  b) what the PCs were told was a false rumor or superstition (wishful thinking?)  c) a gateway to a new world recently opened up nearby - and that dimension is very different than this one.  d) magic!  Yes, the strangeness of sorcery can pretty much make anything possible.  e) the PCs fall into a parallel world or alternate reality where most things are the same, but a few things wildly diverge.  f) All that stuff which came before?  Just an illusion... or maybe that's what the Dark Gods wanted the PCs to believe?

3.  When the players have subverted the GM's expectations, what is he to do?  I asked for some examples of stuff that could flummox a GM.  I received some great suggestions:  What if a PC wants to act against the party?  How about when the GM wants to tailor-make an upcoming encounter for a particular PC?  Or there's an obscure rule for something a PC or NPC wants to try - you know it's somewhere in the book, but have to take a few minutes to read and consider options - what then?

All that stuff takes a bit of time; too much time to just sit there and make everyone wait without calling some kind of recess.  Isn't there a method of instantaneously deciding how things should proceed?  There's a choice GMs have to make.  Either take a 5 - 10 minute break, or roll some motherfucking dice!  Most of the time, I choose the latter.

In the end, whatever the rule book says doesn't really matter.  Stories need drama, excitement, the unexpected.  What could achieve that better than letting a couple ten-siders decide the outcome?  Ultimately, the GM decides the outcome based upon the situation, PC actions, intentions, game world, and all the little details swimming in his head.  First, he pics a likely scenario - how things would normally play out (all things being even) - and, second, he picks an unlikely scenario which, most of the time, would just be a lot of fun to watch (assuming, of course, that the GM is a heartless bastard who gets off on the voyeuristic pleasures of watching warriors and wizards suffer).

Will the cursed scimitar destroy the wand when it makes contact (as the PCs planned), or is there going to be a catastrophic explosion that rips a hole in time and space?  That second option gets a 33% of succeeding because that's what it always gets.  If there's a chance something spectacular (doesn't matter if it's spectacularly good, bad, funny, etc.) happens, then I roll percentiles and see if it comes between 01% and 33%.  Maybe one of the players suggests a possible outcome or it just makes sense or something popped into my devilish GM's brain.  Roll the dice. The game goes on.  No breaks.

Having said all that, I don't think players would have a problem with taking five (or even ten).  While the GM schemes, the rest of the table can get snacks, go to the bathroom, figure out what they're going to do when the game resumes, or ponder their character's next level advancement.

But before calling a stop in the action, consider if this break (and the understanding it might yield) would really heighten some aspect of the game, or unnecessarily delay it.  After a couple seconds consideration, experience will tell a GM if rolling is preferable to stopping.

One last piece of advice, if I was going to call for a break, then I wouldn't make it any longer than ten minutes, and I definitely wouldn't call for more than 1 per session.  The 33% rule.  It works, my friends.  Sometimes, it almost works too well.  ;)

4.  Don't be a pushover, GM!

If you don't want to tolerate disruptions, like cell phones or email checking, then speak up.

Some players will bellyache or grumble in the moment when something unexpected happens.  That's part of our sadistic fun!  Take a few moments after the game and ask yourself if you're really being too hard on everyone or a specific individual.

When players constantly bug the GM about playing some super-powerful race or class or whatever, then find out the reason.  If it's a non-powergamer reason, then allow it with appropriate restrictions.  If it's just about being superior to everyone else, then shut it down with a diabolic laugh and a flourish of your black cape (if you don't have one of those... that might be the problem).

Be tough, but fair.  Hear everyone out, and then try to be generous without overdoing it.

5.  Minimize assumptions!  Before the game starts - or in the middle if you've already began the campaign - send out a survey.  This is the briefest one I could think of...

Based on your previous gaming experience, tell me what are your A) must haves, B) likes, and C) DO NOT WANTs in a roleplaying game.

Getting that information is like having a +7 bonus to be awesome.  Even individuals who reply back with, "I just want a good adventure" have given you something to go on - they're low-maintenance with an easy going attitude.  Preparation like that is greater than spending hours honing your next session's combat tactics.

While you're at it, ask yourself the same thing, GM.  What should your ideal sessions must have, probably include, and get thee behind me, Satan!

Now, there's 5 things - with more to come.  What else would you like to ask, submit, or think I should consider?